Some of the people involved are familiar faces from the current crop of British animators. Chris Shepherd (Dad’s Dead, Who I Am and What I Want) came up with Lifeclass, featuring the distinctive cat-based designs of cartoonist Jim Medway; Robert Morgan (Bobby Yeah) uses his characteristic approach to stop-motion horror with Invocation; David Shrigley (Who I Am and What I Want) has made no less than five shorts for the series; and Cowboys creator Phil Mulloy has topped Shrigley with a total of six films.
Other shorts are the work of relative newcomers to the field. Foxy was made by Stephanie Thandi Johnstone, who graduated from a BA Fine Art course in 2012, while Spatula Head’s Lesley-Anne Rose has only one prior directorial credit to her name (I Once Had a Brother, from 2011).
The animation produced for Random Acts varies in tone, with no set house style. On the one hand, there are a few resolutely populist pieces: 12foot6 revives Dave Anderson’s nineties comic character Bastard Bunny for Bastard Bunny in Boozers Ain’t Wot They Used To Be, a blue humor cartoon which could conceivably be extended into a sitcom or a sketch comedy. Meanwhile, other directors are more experimental—a case in point being Elizabeth Hobbs, whose short Imperial Provisor Frombald uses hand-carved stamps pressed directly onto film to tell the true story of a suspected vampire being exhumed in eighteenth-century Serbia.
It is clear, however, that these films generally emphasize concept over technique. Although some aim for a more robust aesthetic—such as the retro look of Lupus films and Tegn’s Conspiracy, or Bastard Bunny’s humorous character animation—Random Acts is ultimately a place for ideas rather than refined execution.
Unfortunately, the films are not placed in a way that will net them a large audience: they are shown in late night slots at varying times, hence the “random” tag. If we look at the broadcast history, we can see the program was shown at 12:40 on one particular night, 11:55 the next, and 1:20 the night after that. These slots are squeezed in between full-length programmes—so, for example, Heather Phillipson’s short Splashy Phasings was shown between a late repeat of the comedy panel game 8 Out of 10 Cats and a televised poker tournament.
Looking through the history of Channel 4 animation, this is something of a step down. In the Nineties, the channel’s animation initiative 4mations was a dedicated block that would show several shorts at a time, similar to MTV’s Liquid Television. Even when 4mations ended, animated shorts were still sometimes slipped into the 5-minute slot after the evening news: for example, Gaëlle Denis’ 2011 short City Paradise was shown in a 7:55pm post-news slot as part of 3 Minute Wonder, a program comparable to Random Acts.
Taking a glass-half-full look at things, however, it is heartening to see that Channel 4 is still supporting animation. The channel’s pioneering commitment to the medium has been declared dead more than once, but Random Acts shows that Channel 4 animation is still with us, and is adapting to a new media landscape—one in which short films have found the perfect home on the Internet, rather than on television.
Take a look HERE to see all of the animated shorts produced for Random Acts.
Image Captions (Top to Bottom)
1. The Reading, one of AL & AL’s contributions to Random Acts.
2. Kajal Verma’s A and E Down Under.
3. Bastard Bunny in Boozers Ain’t Wot They Used To Be.
4. Imperial Provisor Frombald, by Elizabeth Hobbs